Prayer Targets: NDP; COVID-19 and the Economy; Are Churches an Essential Service?
May 13, 2020
Dear Praying Friends,
The works of E.M. Bounds (1835-1913) are essential reading for pastors and prayer warriors. He wrote for many audiences but was especially burdened for his fellow pastors. He believed their secret prayers and praying example were key to discipling praying churches. Here is an excerpt from his The Necessity of Prayer:
PRAYER governs conduct, and conduct makes character. Conduct is what we do and are. Conduct is the outward life. Character is the life unseen, hidden within, yet evidenced by that which is seen. In the economy of grace, conduct is the offspring of character. Character is the state of the heart. Character is the root of the tree, conduct, the fruit it bears. Prayer helps to establish character and fashion conduct. Prayer helps where all other aids fail. The very end and purpose of the atoning work of Christ is to create [godly] character and to make Christian conduct.
[Christ] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. In Christ's teaching, it is not simply works of charity and deeds of mercy upon which he insists, but inward spiritual character. In the study of Paul's Epistles, there is one thing which stands out, clearly and unmistakably -- the insistence on holiness of heart, and righteousness of life. Paul does not seek, so much, to promote what is termed "personal work," nor is the leading theme of his letters deeds of charity. The church is God's manufactory on earth, and its primary duty is to create and foster righteousness of character. Primarily, its work is not to acquire members, nor amass numbers, nor aim at money-getting, nor engage in deeds of charity and works of mercy, but to produce righteousness of character, and purity of the outward life. A product reflects and partakes of the character of the manufactory which makes it. A righteous church with a righteous purpose makes righteous men. Prayer produces cleanliness of heart and purity of life. It can produce nothing else. Unrighteous conduct is born of prayerlessness; the two go hand-in-hand. Prayer and sinning cannot keep company with each other. One or the other must, of necessity, stop. Get men to pray, and they will quit sinning, because prayer creates a distaste for sinning, and so works upon the heart.
What we are with God gauges our influence with him. It was the inner character, not the outward bearing, of such men as Abraham, Job, David, Moses, and all others, who had such great influence with God in the days of old. And, today, it is not so much our words, as what we really are, which weighs with God. Conduct affects character, of course, and counts for much in our praying. At the same time, character affects conduct to a far greater extent, and has a superior influence over prayer. The stream of prayer cannot rise higher than the fountain of living. We simply cannot talk to God, strongly, intimately, and confidently unless we are living for him, faithfully and truly. We must learn this lesson well -- that righteous character and Christlike conduct give us a peculiar and preferential standing in prayer before God. His holy Word gives special emphasis to the part conduct has in imparting value to our praying when it declares: Then shalt thou call and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am; if thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth the finger, and speaking vanity.
The wickedness of Israel and their heinous practices were definitely cited by Isaiah, as the reason why God would turn his ears away from their prayers: And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. The same sad truth was declared by the Lord through the mouth of Jeremiah: Therefore, pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble. Here, it is plainly stated, that unholy conduct is a bar to successful praying, just as it is clearly intimated that, in order to have full access to God in prayer, there must be a total abandonment of conscious and premeditated sin. We cannot, by any process, divorce praying from conduct. And James declares roundly that men ask and receive not, because they ask amiss, and seek only the gratification of selfish desires. Our Lord's injunction, "Watch ye, and pray always," is to cover and guard all our conduct, so that we may come to our inner chamber with all its force secured by a vigilant guard kept over our lives. The most effective preaching is not that which is heard from the pulpit, but that which is proclaimed quietly, humbly, and consistently, which exhibits its excellencies in the home and in the community.
Example preaches a far more effective sermon than precept. The best preaching, even in the pulpit, is that which is fortified by godly living, in the preacher himself. The most effective work done by the pew is preceded by, and accompanied with, holiness of life, separation from the world, severance from sin. Some of the strongest appeals are made with mute lips -- by godly fathers and saintly mothers who, around the fireside, feared God, loved his cause, and daily exhibited to their children and others about them the beauties and excellencies of Christian life and conduct. Men preach by their lives, not by their words, and sermons are delivered, not so much in, and from a pulpit, as in tempers, actions, and the thousand and one incidents which crowd the pathway of daily life.
Of course, the prayer of repentance is acceptable to God. He delights in hearing the cries of penitent sinners. But repentance involves not only sorrow for sin, but the turning away from wrong-doing, and the learning to do well. A repentance which does not produce a change in character and conduct is a mere sham, which should deceive nobody. Old things must pass away, all things must become new. We have missed the whole office of prayer if it fails to purge character and rectify conduct. We have failed entirely to apprehend the virtue of prayer if it brings not about the revolutionizing of the life. Our praying advances in power, just insofar, as it rectifies the life. Growing in purity and devotion to God will be a more prayerful life. Always, it is "the prayer of the righteous man which availeth much." Praying sets him who prays to the great business of "working out his salvation with fear and trembling;" puts him to watching his temper, conversation and conduct; causes him to "walk circumspectly, redeeming the time;" enables him to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith he is called, with all lowliness and meekness;" gives him a high incentive to pursue his pilgrimage consistently by "shunning every evil way, and walking in the good." (E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer, Ch. 8, "Prayer and Character and Conduct," reduced for space)
National Day of Prayer Report -- Last Thursday, the 2020 NDP observance was broadcast, streamed live from the NDP website, Facebook, partners websites, and social media platforms. Broadcast on major Christian TV networks from locations nationwide, it reached over 100 million homes in the U.S. and 700 million worldwide. When taking into account America's major Christian radio networks' regional and local stations, it reached over 100 million households in the U.S. Kathy Branzell, Will Graham, Michael W. Smith, Nick Hall, and a host of others led millions in worship and prayer, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reported that more than 1,000 people responded to Will Graham's invitation to receive Christ. Now our prayer focus moves to the Call2Fall and The Return!
Human Life, Abortion, COVID-19 & the Economy -- In 2018, only 39 percent of American households said they had enough savings to get them through a $1,000 setback. The Federal Reserve and the federal government have jumped in to provide a cash infusion to homes and businesses, yet with the unprecedented number of unemployed and business and government debt, America is still in trouble. State and local governments, especially in states who have managed their budgets poorly, are looking for COVID-19 federal bailouts to help them recover from past and ongoing failures. If signed into law, the House bill unveiled yesterday would raise the national debt yet another $3 trillion. FRC will comb the bill to make sure it is devoid of abortion funding and other agenda items that liberals have attempted to pad earlier relief packages with. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with his many other demands, wants $60 billion to help cure New York's budget deficit. You will remember that he daily demanded huge increases in federal COVID-19 support: huge amounts of medical equipment, thousands of expensive respirators, extra hospital space, etc. The president raced the USS Comfort hospital ship to New York in response. Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse responded to a request from a major NYC hospital to build a tent hospital facility in Central Park. They did, providing New York hospital care at no cost. Not only were they harassed and investigated by New York on charges that they were discriminating against LGBT people (and cleared), but after providing medical care for hundreds of New Yorkers free of charge, they were required by New York to pay taxes for each out-of-state employee on assignment in New York during the relief effort. Amid his daily televised demands, Cuomo gave an eloquent speech about the value of every human life. This was the same Cuomo who lit up the Empire State Building in pink and led applause among State legislators to celebrate the most aggressive pro-abortion law in the nation. Early in the crisis, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio warned that if any churches defied his shutdown orders, he would close them "permanently." Meanwhile, New York is requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients despite the huge threat to other residents in the home. It was not until thousands of nursing home patients had died due to this practice that Governor Cuomo reversed the requirement (We did it; The Value of Life).
- Father, this pandemic has revealed the attitudes and convictions of our national and state leaders regarding the sanctity of human life, faith, and religious liberty. Please move America to support those who will stand for righteousness in the critical elections this year! (Gen 1:27; Dt 27:25; Jer 1:5; Jn 3:16; Ps 127:3; 139:13-16; Pr 24:11-12; 30:15-16; Mt 25:23; Lk 16:10, 19:17)
Are Churches an Essential Service? Is Religious Liberty Still Guaranteed? -- Pastors and government leaders both have to determine what their responsibilities and duties are to those they serve. The ministry of churches should be considered an essential service and should be accommodated by the government amid the coronavirus crisis in the same way other essential services are. But in many jurisdictions, churches have essentially been shut down and ministers have been prevented from visiting the sick and from entering nursing homes to fulfill their ministry. Some have done well using the internet and social media while others believe they must meet in person while following CDC social distancing guidelines. Some governors and mayors have issued stifling and possibly unconstitutional orders, which has led to churches banding together to sue their governor, as has happened here in Maryland outside Washington, D.C. Anecdotally, pastors have been arrested, services disrupted, and churches shuttered by the police. More and more churches are deciding that their constitutional liberties are being denied. The ones I know of that have chosen to meet are not in rebellion to the health guidance that has been offered, either from Washington or their state capital. They are taking special care to use social distancing and to wear masks, wash hands, etc. In California, a group of over 3,000 churches have given Governor Newsom notice that they will all be opening on May 31, taking reasonable safety measures. Where churches have been designated "non-essential services," many pastors and scholars firmly disagree. Their resistance to that perspective is a matter of conscience. Throughout history, the church has played an important ministry role even amid pandemics. Indeed, Christianity has expanded during these periods as believers fearlessly ministered to the sick and dying. In our declining culture, churches are every bit as essential as our supermarkets, pharmacies, and a host of other businesses that are so considered "essential." Ministering to our souls is as important as feeding and medicating our bodies. It is a grievous insult for marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores, and abortion facilities to be designated "essential services" while churches are not. Americans must ask: would we defy the author ities and meet underground, if necessary, to carry on the church's fundamental duties as the Baptists and Pentecostals did in the Soviet Union or as Christians do in China, North Korea, and many Muslim nations today? (See California Pastors; Fear Factor)
- Lord, we pray that you will guide every pastor, church, elder board, presbytery, or bishopric how to handle this matter. Help each to find your mind in this matter. Protect those who take a stand to open and those who choose otherwise. May each behave in Christian humility and dignity as they defend their position while following just government guidelines. Help all of us to stand for religious liberty. Moderate and win those authorities in towns, counties, and states that do not take religious liberty into account as they revisit their rules. May exceptions be made for religious faith. May our churches not clash but respect one another. May we remain free to practice our faith. (Acts 2:38-47; Ex 20:1-6; I Chr 16:11; Ps 111:10,124:8; Pr 14:27; Dan 4:37; Mic 6:8; Mt 22:21; Mk 12:17; Acts 2:38-47; Heb 10:2)
As always, thank you for praying!